Our station rarely gets a tip about a scam quite so sophisticated as the one we uncovered with the help of a viewer right here in eastern Idaho.
“I posted on Craigslist here in eastern Idaho and Idaho Falls,” said Idaho Falls mom Tavia Pickett.
Pickett had five textbooks she needed to sell.
She did what a lot of folks would do in the Internet age –she made a post on Craigslist.
Soon after, she got a hopeful response.
“(He) asked me if I had the items still available for sale,” she said, referring to the first e-mail response she received from a man who called himself Joel Harris.
Harris told Pickett he wanted those textbooks so badly, he would pay her $50 more than her asking price if she would guarantee they would go to him.
They texted back and forth. Harris sent Pickett a check.
“It’s an $1,800 dollar check,” said Pickett.
The check Pickett got in the mail was about $1,600 more than the price of the textbooks. But her buyer had sent specific instructions.
“He told me once I received the check, that I was to put the money into my bank, then take out the money he was supposed to give me, then send the rest with the books back,” said Pickett.
It seemed like a bizarre request.
Pickett read and reread those instructions — to send the leftover cash back by Western Union. Her gut said something was wrong.
“We had seen a news article previously on your station that an older woman had been scammed out of $3,000,” said Pickett.
Pickett spoke to friends and even called her bank.
“The bank told me the way the checks work is that you put it in the bank account, a few days later it will say that it’s clear,” said Pickett.
The bank told Pickett that’s when victims of this scam often take out the extra money as instructed, and send it back to the scammer.
“And then a few days later it would say there’s no funds available and that it’s a phony check, and then I would have to repay the bank the $1,600 dollars,” Pickett said the bank her.
The crook would get away Scott-free, since there would be no way to trace the Western Union payment.
“That’s when I got upset and told him that he better leave me alone,” said Pickett.
Pickett says the only way she realized this was a scam was by trusting the bad feeling she had, and by doing her research.
“Don’t be too trusting, especially when it comes to a large amount of money,” said Pickett.
If there’s one piece of advice she says stands any scammer’s test:
“Trust your gut,” said Pickett. “It’s easy for anyone to get scammed if you’re not smart about it.”
For questions about whether or not a particular transaction might be a scam, your local bank is a good place to look for answers.